James Gunn Secretly Made His Dream Comics Adaptation With Guardians of the Galaxy 3
Before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, there was We3.
For all his wisecracks and mischief, the origin story of Rocket Raccoon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a harrowing one. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Rocket’s history is revealed to involve everything from animal cruelty, to unethical science practices, revenge, and tragic loss.
It’s a story that James Gunn, an unabashed animal rights activist who often weaves his politics into his films, has wanted to tell for a long time. Less than a year after his first Guardians of the Galaxy became a sleeper hit, the writer/director revealed in a March 2015 Facebook Q&A one of his dream comics to adapt into a movie: We3, an action sci-fi/drama from comic book luminaries Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.
It’s a fitting answer, given the ways We3’s story suits Gunn’s darker sensibilities more closely than Guardians of the Galaxy. Published in 2004 by DC Comics’ once legendary imprint Vertigo, We3 is an impeccable, if often overlooked, prestige miniseries about three kidnapped pets — a dog, a cat, and a rabbit — who are subjects in a top secret U.S. military experiment. After they learn they are to be “decommissioned,” their creator helps them break free to live in the wild where they rely on their forcibly-learned skills and bulky armor to survive.
Spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 follow.
With a more subdued tone than mainstream superhero comics, and with all the gore belonging to a prestige graphic novel, We3 is like a Disney cartoon directed by Stanley Kubrick. Morrison’s empathetic writing and Quitely’s detailed, hyper-realistic illustrations imbue the comic with a particularly dark weight to its narrative, which is intentionally at odds with the purposeful cuteness of the animals themselves. Given the tag-team dynamo of Morrison and Quitely, We3 is almost the direct opposite to their more uplifting superhero comic All-Star Superman. Whereas Superman is about coming to terms with mortality, We3 is about resilience against the odds.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 delves into the story of Rocket and his fellow adorable test subjects for the maniacal High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). It’s unmistakable how much Vol. 3 could be an unofficial We3 adaptation in disguise. While there are major critical differences between We3 and Rocket’s story — and both undoubtedly owe debts to novels like Animal Farm and Watership Down — there are broad parallels between them as bleak sci-fi dramas that hinge on the hopeful (and rather literal) underdog fantasy of animals reclaiming agency from a selfish “superior” species.
Like Gunn, the acclaimed British writer Morrison has expressed pro-animal principles throughout their career. They went vegetarian after seeing the 1981 documentary The Animals Film, and in the late 1980s spent their run on the DC superhero title Animal Man as a platform to express animal rights. In a 2004 interview with Newsarama about We3, Morrison reiterated his stances:
“Humans tend to place a very high value on human life, in some cases, and very little value on human life in some other cases, so our imagined special position in nature, like our morality, is suspect, inconsistent and open to constant revision depending on how we feel on any given day.
“Basically, we hurt, abuse and torture some animals because we can get away with it, in typical bully style. We tend to think our very human-ness confers upon us some special distinction from the animals but it does that no more so than does the ‘orangutan-ness’ of an orang gives her special distinction. Our ‘dominion’ of the Earth is a result of our command of lethal technology and our childlike enthusiasm for wanton destruction, not a God-given mandate.”
In the same interview, Morrison equates the “blinding, freezing, vivisecting, irradiating, and bludgeoning” of animals for scientific progress to “Nazi sadist doctors.”
With Superman on his plate, James Gunn isn’t set to actually adapt We3 any time soon. Not that he has to. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 now under his belt, Gunn has what might be his ultimate anti-animal cruelty movie. But if the world ever needs a reminder not to hurt animals, Gunn could always just do it again. Remember: He runs DC Studios, now.